Yes, yes, it’s been a while. There, I beat you to it. But I have very good excuses. #1 I wrote a book #2 I visited Amsterdam and Prague #3 I moved house and #4 I had family visit from home. And yet I still say I am living a slower life. A simpler life. A life that dishes out lessons to me nearly every day.
We’ve done more international travel than we ever planned to, but we’ve been able to afford it because our ‘regular’ life in France is very inexpensive. Living away from the big cities (and the little ones too!) means our alimentary needs are met by local farmers. The French government is paying for our children’s education (merci beaucoup!) and at €3 a bottle, the lovely local reds don’t break the entertainment budget.
I loved Amsterdam for its edgy design boutiques and its bicycle culture. I’m grateful for the way in which the very fancy Rijks Museum restaurant made our Christmas Eve one to remember. The kids ate oysters topped with caviar and enjoyed it a little too much. I loved Prague for its breathtaking architecture, some of it untouched since the 10th century. The old town square is easily the most stunning I’ve seen in Europe with its Astronomical Clock, Rococo Kinsky Palace and the St Nicholas Church all competing for the largest crowds of swarming tourists, even in winter. The day it snowed, we journeyed south to Cesky Krumlov, a storybook village frosted in white, where every corner made you gape in disbelief at how much beauty laid before you.
I was shy (I know, it’s rare) about my book writing as I got started. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years, really. In fact I think back to my primary school years and the only memory I have of ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ was a journalist. A writer. A storyteller. But for some reason I’d forgotten, and time passed all too quickly without me addressing that desire. So I had stern words with myself late last year and together, my two personalities agreed on the fact that if I went back to Australia having not made full use of my time ‘off the grid’ so to speak, I would regret it. And regret is something I simply cannot live with. So I did it. In 99 days, I wandered in a haze of the world I was writing about. The process has taught me a great deal and Seth Godin’s recent post ‘Show Your Work’ encouraged me to share it with you.
Godin said, “What works is evolving in public, with the team. Showing your work. Thinking out loud. Failing on the way to succeeding, imperfecting on your way to better than good enough.” So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll keep you updated. I’m in the editing phase at the moment (your prayers please, this is not the fun bit!) and by the time I leave France in May, I will have hit ‘send’ and put myself out there to several literary agents and publishers. The harder I work on the book, the more I want the result. It’s scary, but not as scary as it would be to wonder about the ‘what ifs’ for the rest of my life.
Our simple life has included simple food. I’ve come to learn that ‘eating simply’ is so much easier to do in France. A wedge of Brie de Meaux, a fresh baguette and some garlic olives can be a most delicious and substantial meal when cooking seems too much of an effort. And the best part for me, is how accessible and affordable it is. The whole lot for under €5. You could probably throw in a bottle of red and keep it under €6. My expectation when I first arrived in France, was that I would be cooking fancy food, complex sauces and rich dishes that kept me in the kitchen most of the day. But for day-to-day living, I’ve found almost the opposite to be true.
The fruit and vegetables grown locally taste so good, that the kids will happily sit down to a plate of raw radishes, cherry tomatoes, romano beans, strips of yellow capsicum and avocado halves. They sprinkle on the salt and pepper themselves and cut themselves a wedge of cheese. They peel off a slice of jambon, (I do have to buy two types of ham to keep everyone happy) wrap it around the cheese and finish off the meal with strawberries, red currants or a clementine, which tastes heavenly at the moment (I don’t think I could make a sweeter dessert than these mandarins).
My lovely Portuguese vege vendor takes great pleasure in sharing recipes with me every week, never worrying about holding up the old ladies waiting behind me. Her recipes are always easy, just a few ingredients at the most. Dessert for her is quite often a sweet potato sprinkled with brown sugar or served with fried banana slices. I tried her recipe and added mascarpone, a little maple syrup and some cinnamon. The slices of potato cooked in a jiffy and it tasted divine. She gave me a recipe for fava beans last week but I never got to it … we got distracted and ate them raw with a little sea salt instead. When carrots taste like carrots and tomatoes taste like sunshine, you need to do so little to improve on it. I’ve been travelling with my Thermomix, olive oil, salt and pepper. It’s all I need to pull together simple meals and it saves us a fortune eating out.
I have another friend, Claire (whose name is actually spelt Khlare, but the French can’t get their heads around it) who lives on ten hectares of pine forest and sells vegetables for a living. She’s opened up the world of kale varieties to me. I can eat them raw, straight from the ground and they are sweet and crisp. A little honey and ginger dressing is all I add to make it a salad.
I haven’t completely avoided cooking, though. I did make it my business to perfect my Coq au Vin and to learn Blanquette de Veau. Next on my list to learn is Foie de Veau (veal liver). I’ve decided the French are a very frugal nation and they’re very clever how they use cheaper cuts of meat or offal, give it the time it needs to cook slowly and tenderise, and dish it up with a pile of gorgeous veges and an amazing sauce. In Australia, I was more likely to invest in an expensive cut of meat, but I’m learning how you can still serve up a delicious feast and make the sauce or side dishes the hero. Recipes for these to come … and the sauces are way easier than you’d think, as long as you’re not calorie counting!
Sweet Potato and Banana Dessert
1 small sweet potato, peeled and sliced diagonally into 1cm thick slices
1 large banana, sliced diagonally into 2cms thick slices
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp unsalted butter or coconut oil
mascarpone to serve
maple syrup to serve
Simply heat butter or coconut oil in a frypan to medium-high. When bubbling, add banana and sweet potato slices. Cook each side until golden. The banana will cook quickest, about 1-2 mins each side. The sweet potato will take 4-5mins on one side and 2-3 on the next. Arrange in a bowl and serve with maple syrup, mascarpone and a dusting of cinnamon. Makes a great afternoon tea snack for the kids or a healthy dessert.